ZKM | Museum of Contemporary Art, 09|17|2011 – 02|05|2012
Francis Alÿs

* 1959 in Antwerp (BE), lives and works in Mexico City (MX)

Turista, Catedral Metropolitana, 1994

For the last twenty years the public spaces in and around Mexico City have formed the primary sphere of activity for the Belgian artist Francis Alÿs, who unremittingly traverses the megalopolis with his ephemeral walks, actions, and performances. Alÿs repeatedly sets temporary marks throughout the urban space by way of which he points to the poetic, as well as political dimensions of everyday survival strategies which many evolve – at times laboriously, at times playfully – when faced with a society oscillating between the extremes of innovation and tradition, between progress, failure, and stagnation.
In the photographic documentary of one of the performances shown here, the artist joins the queue at Zócalo, a central square in the Mexican metropolis, where painters, electricians, plumbers, and other day laborers wait in search of work. By showing himself as part of the “authentic” background with a cardboard sign identifying him as a tourist, Alÿs reflects the touristic gaze back at the peering, photographing, or filming subject. However, at the same time the work may be understood as precise, ironic commentary on the dialectical mechanisms of a globalized art world, as much defined by a facile international jet-setting class as it is by a precarious labor market. However, Alÿs no less scrutinizes his own role as a global as well locally acting artist. Although integrating himself into the local setting, but while the laborers around him pursue the same objective, the artist remains an external observer and lone commentator of society. (AM)


, Catedral Metroplitana, 1994